The story of Business as Usual is putting us on a collision course with disaster. And by itself, the Great Unraveling can seem like a horror story that overwhelms and defeats, paralyzing us. Fortunately there is a third story, one that is becoming increasingly visible. You are probably already part of it.
As an aid to appreciating the ways you may already be part of this story, we identify three dimensions of the Great Turning. They are mutually reinforcing and equally necessary. For convenience, we’ve labeled them as first, second, and third dimensions, but that is not to suggest any order of sequence or importance. We can start at any point, and beginning at one naturally leads into either of the others. It is for each of us to follow our own sense of rightness about where we feel called to act.
- First Dimension: Holding Actions
Holding actions aim to hold back and slow down the damage being caused by the political economy of Business as Usual. The goal is to protect what is left of our natural life-support systems, rescuing what we can of our biodiversity, clean air and water, forests, and topsoil. Holding actions also counter the unraveling of our social fabric, caring for those who have been damaged and safeguarding communities against exploitation, war, starvation, and injustice. Holding actions defend our shared existence and the integrity of life on this, our planet home.
This dimension includes raising awareness of the damage being done, gathering evidence of and documenting the environmental, social, and health impacts of industrial growth. We need the work of scientists, campaigners, and journalists, revealing the links between pollution and rising childhood cancers; fossil fuel consumption and climate disturbance; the availability of cheap products and sweatshop working conditions. Unless these connections are clearly made, it is too easy to go on unconsciously contributing to the unraveling of our world. We become part of the story of the Great Turning when we increase our awareness, seek to learn more, and alert others to the issues we all face.
There are many ways we can act. We can choose to remove our support for behaviors and products we know to be part of the problem. Joining with others, we can add to the strength of campaigns, petitions, boycotts, rallies, legal proceedings, direct actions, and other forms of protest against practices that threaten our world. While holding actions can be frustrating when met with slow progress or defeat, they have also led to important victories. Areas of old-growth forests in Canada, the United States, Poland, and Australia, for example, have been protected through determined and sustained activism.
Holding actions are essential; they save lives, they save species and ecosystems, they save some of the gene pool for future generations. But by themselves, they are not enough for the Great Turning to occur. “For every acre of forest protected, many others are lost to logging or clearance. For every species brought back from the brink, others are lost to extinction. Vital as protest is, relying on it as a sole avenue of change can leave us battle-weary or disillusioned. Along with stopping the damage, we need to replace or transform the systems that cause the harm. This is the work of the second dimension.
- Second Dimension: Life-Sustaining Systems and Practices
If you look for it, you can find evidence that our civilization is being reinvented all around us. Previously accepted approaches to healthcare, business, education, agriculture, transportation, communication, psychology, economics, and so many other areas are being questioned and transformed. This is the second strand of the Great Turning, and it involves a rethinking of the way we do things, as well as a creative redesign of the structures and systems that make up our society.”
One area benefiting from such investment is the agricultural sector, which has seen a swing to environmentally and socially responsible practices. Concerned about the toxic effects of pesticides and other chemicals used in industrial farming, large numbers of people have switched to buying and eating organic produce. Fair-trade initiatives improve the working conditions of producers, while community supported agriculture (CSA) and farmers’ markets cut food miles by increasing the availability of local produce. In these and other areas, strong, green shoots are sprouting, as new organizational systems grow out of the visionary question, “Is there a better way to do things — one that brings benefits rather than causing harm?” In some areas, like green building, design principles that were considered on the fringe a few years ago are now finding widespread acceptance.
When we support and participate in these emerging strands of a life-sustaining culture, we become part of the Great Turning. Through our choices about how to travel, where to shop, what to buy, and how to save, we shape the development of this new economy. Social enterprises, micro-energy projects, community teach-ins, sustainable agriculture, and ethical financial systems all contribute to the rich patchwork “quilt of a life-sustaining society. By themselves, however, they are not enough. These new structures won’t take root and survive without deeply ingrained values to sustain them. This is the work of the third dimension of the Great Turning.
- Third Dimension: Shift in Consciousness
What inspires people to embark on projects or support campaigns that are not of immediate personal benefit? At the core of our consciousness is a wellspring of caring and compassion; this aspect of ourselves — which we might think of as our connected self — can be nurtured and developed. We can deepen our sense of belonging in the world. Like trees extending their root system, we can grow in connection, thus allowing ourselves to draw from a deeper pool of strength, accessing the courage and intelligence we so greatly need right now. This dimension of the Great Turning arises from shifts taking place in our hearts, our minds, and our views of reality. It involves insights and practices that resonate with venerable spiritual traditions, while in alignment with revolutionary new understandings from science.
A shift in consciousness is taking place, as we move into a larger landscape of what we are. With this evolutionary jump comes a beautiful convergence of two areas previously thought to clash: science and spirituality. The awareness of a deeper unity connecting us lies at the heart of many spiritual traditions; insights from modern science point in a similar direction. We live at a time when a new view of reality is emerging, where spiritual insight and scientific discovery both contribute to our understanding of ourselves as intimately interwoven with our world.
We take part in this third dimension of the Great Turning when we pay attention to the inner frontier of change, to the personal and spiritual development that enhances our capacity and desire to act for our world. By strengthening our compassion, we give fuel to our courage and determination. By refreshing our sense of belonging in the world, we widen the web of relationships that nourishes us and protects us from burnout. In the past, changing the self and changing the world were often regarded as separate endeavors and viewed in either-or terms. But in the story of the Great Turning, they are recognized as mutually reinforcing and essential to one another.